FILE - A woman marks her ballot behind a privacy barrier in the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, west of Montreal, on October 19, 2015. A New Brunswick MLA has requested that the chief electoral officer to probe the operations of New Brunswick Proud, which was a registered third party during the 2018 provincial election. (THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes)

MLA wants electoral officer to probe anti-Liberal group, New Brunswick Proud

It and groups such as Canada Proud post messages highly critical of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau

New Brunswick’s chief electoral officer is analyzing a complaint filed against the conservative political action group New Brunswick Proud, which has ties to similar right-leaning organizations that have recently sprung up with the goal of influencing Canadian voters.

Elections New Brunswick confirmed Tuesday that it has received a request from Moncton Centre MLA Robert McKee to probe the operations of the registered third party during the 2018 provincial election.

McKee’s complaint alleges that during last year’s election campaign, New Brunswick Proud committed “unethical” activities that potentially breached electoral law.

Registered third parties can be interest groups, individuals, unions or other organizations that want to run political advertisements before and during provincial and federal election campaigns. They don’t face spending limits on ads before the official campaign begins but are tightly regulated during the writ period.

New Brunswick Proud is among a number of similarly named groups that have recently appeared to compete against left-leaning registered third parties in the messaging war to influence Canadian voters.

It and groups such as Ontario Proud, Quebec Proud and Canada Proud have large Facebook followings and often post messages highly critical of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and favourable to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

READ MORE: B.C. Premier John Horgan worried about ‘rise of racism’

McKee’s complaint says New Brunswick Proud should be investigated on several grounds, including for alleged improper financial disclosures and for potential “collusion” with the provincial Progressive Conservative party. The complaint does not include direct evidence against New Brunswick Proud for either of these allegations.

McKee said he lodged his complaint with chief electoral officer Kimberly Poffenroth in an effort to get her to review the province’s election rules in order to “level the playing field.”

“These third parties are shadowy-type groups,” he said in an interview.

Representatives from New Brunswick Proud did not return a request for comment. But one of the directors of Ontario Proud, Jeffrey Ballingall, said the New Brunswick group and others around the country with similar names, “were inspired by me.”

Ballingall, who said he helps run Ontario Proud, B.C. Proud and Canada Proud, said his work is “resonating” with Canadians across the country.

“We’re trying to fight for responsible, accountable government, lower taxes, jobs, and (against) corruption,” he said in an interview. “Trying to shine a light on Justin Trudeau’s stupidity, arrogance and corruption.”

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His said his company did “some consultation work” for the New Brunswick group but no longer has any affiliation with it.

New Brunswick Proud’s financial returns show the third party gave Ballingall’s company, Mobilize Media Group Ltd., two contracts for Facebook advertising worth roughly $4,700.

The returns also reveal the group’s two main donors are based in Alberta: the Manning Foundation and the pro-oil industry Modern Miracle Network, who together gave a total of $12,000.

McKee says the group’s members have ties to the provincial Progressive Conservative party. His complaint alleges “there is evidence of at least once director and another individual affiliated with NB Proud to have actively campaigned for the PCs during the 2018 election campaign.” However, the complaint doesn’t name the people or provide evidence to justify the claim.

A provincial Progressive Conservative party spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

— By Giuseppe Valiante in Montreal

The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Canadians are politically polarized, but social media likely not culprit — study

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